Housing authority audit details aren’t released
MORGAN CITY, La. — A document naming administrative office workers given tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses, of which more than $93,000 exceeded what is allowed under civil service regulations, was presented to Morgan City Housing Authority board of commissioners during a special meeting Monday.
The identity of the employees and how much they were paid was not publicly revealed.
Victory Ho, commission chairman, said he intends to release the document as soon as he ascertains it is a public record. The commission does not have legal counsel contracted to advise them in the matter, he said. Ho said he will call the state civil service board this morning as well as U.S. Housing and Urban Development to obtain guidance.
“I am not trying to hide anything,” Ho said. “I want to give it to the public in the proper manner.”
More than one, but not all of the civil service employees at the housing authority had “reward and recognition” compensation that exceeded the 10 percent of base salary allowed by state requirements, according to Alan Taylor, a certified public accountant from Kolder, Champagne, Slaven & Company, the accounting firm that has been conducting annual audits of the housing authority for about a decade.
There were four civil service employees at the housing authority, Charles Spann, housing authority director said last week. That number included Spann, who said he had not requested a bonus from the commissioners.
During the audit presentation, Taylor said that “there are a number of confidentiality issues that I feel should not be discussed in a public forum.” Later, when he distributed the document that detailed how much certain individuals were paid, he said that he “would trust that there be restraint” in releasing what the document revealed because “it is confidential information that affects individuals.”
Louisiana Revised Statute 44:11 provides that public employees home telephone numbers and home addresses may be exempt from public records. No exemption is made for the name of public employees or for their compensations.
The Morgan City Housing Authority is one of only five out of 102 Louisiana housing authorities classified as “troubled” by Housing and Urban Development, according to Patricia Campbell, regional public affairs officer.
Troubled agencies score below 60 on an assessment scale of 0 to 100. The local housing authority slid from a 50 in 2011 to a 49 rating in 2012, Campbell said. The authority had a waiver from scoring due to Hurricane Gustav in 2010.
The housing authority appeared to rely on a memo dated Nov. 8, 2007, outlining the housing authority’s policy for rewards and recognition for “duties in removing the housing authority from troubled status.” Taylor pointed out that the 2007 memo outlining a reward policy was almost verbatim of the state civil service policy except that it removed the stipulation that it should not exceed 10 percent of the employee’s base salary and it removed the qualification that it is rewarded for removing the housing authority from troubled status. The 2007 policy said rewards were not to exceed an employee’s annual salary.
Ho countered by saying that later in the memo the reward policy stipulated that rewards shall conform to state civil service requirements.
“The 10 percent rule is on record with the civil service … although it doesn’t say it in our policy,” Ho said.
The 2012 fiscal year audit accepted by the board of commissioners Monday night had 10 negative findings or irregularities at the housing authority for the period that ended Sept. 20, 2012.
“I wish all of this wasn’t going on, but I will take care of it,” Ho said as he explained his intention to get to the bottom of all the issues brought out in the audit.
Taylor said there could be an explanation for many of the findings, which would indicate oversights and mistakes rather than intentional errors.
Melinda Grey, who performed the audit, said some contracts were void because they were not completed within 60 days and payment should not have been made. Both accountants said that to their knowledge no one was paid rent for an uninhabited dwelling.
“It would be difficult … to infer that there was more underlying in the transaction than an insufficient documentation issue,” Taylor said.
The Daily Review submitted a written public record request Thursday morning for the records regarding payments in the civil service program. The records have not been received.
Mayor Frank Grizzaffi and Councilman Ron Bias, who represents the district where the housing authority is located, have expressed a concern about what is going on at the authority, especially its reluctance to submit public records for review.
“I have a problem with that,” said Bias of the failure to release records. “If there is nothing to hide, I would do everything to make sure people knew that.”
Grizzaffi said that with the exception of mayoral appointments to the commission, city government has no oversight. He said he has not made any of the current appointments.